Customer Loyalty

Lifestyle Business vs. Innovation Driven Growth Business. There is no right or wrong, the choice is yours.


Note:  I first posted on this subject nearly two years ago, yet it seems to always be on my mind.  I was especially reminded of this discussion on my visit last week to the Platter's Chocolate facility in Tonawanda, NY last week.  The owner, Joe Urban exemplifies all that is great about a small business owner and team growing a successful operation. With a nearly 80 year history under their belt they haven't gone public and don't employ 1,000s, but they have built a great business that employs many, is creating memories for its customers and is a critical part of our community.  I was inspired during that visit to remind all of us just how important the small business community is to our economy. I've updated that original post here with new numbers and a couple fresh thoughts.  I hope you enjoy it. If you do, join the conversation.

Having recently read an article discussing the distinct differences between today’s “tech bubble” and that of the “dot-com” disaster of yester years, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a local entrepreneur attempting a tech startup.

In the course of the conversation, it became clear that he had little respect for the lifestyle entrepreneur. In his mind, if you aren’t building a rapidly scaling innovation driven enterprise, you are insignificant.  I found his attitude a little off putting for many reasons.  We’ll get there in a minute, but let me start by saying I fully support investment in the innovation-driven economy. 

I will be the first person to say yes to government agencies “priming the pump” in communities like Buffalo, NY to get the high-tech flywheel spinning.  It’s critically important.  This is the world of commercializing innovative ideas and new technologies.  Successful technology-driven companies have the potential to scale quickly and create jobs at a faster pace than lifestyle businesses. However, they also have their own challenges - high failure rates, large capital investment and tradable jobs that can easily be moved around the globe. 

That being said, there is another huge sector of our economy driven by small businesses that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. We need to acknowledge and support the importance of the small business community and the positive impact it has on our communities and economies.  

Consider some of these stats:

  • There are over 28,500,000 Small Businesses in the U.S.
  • U.S. small businesses employed about half or 56.8 million of the nation’s private workforce or 48% of the workforce
  • They make up 99.7% of all employers nationally
  • 97.7 percent of U.S. export firms are small businesses
  • 88.5% of U.S. employer firms have less than 20 employees and only .26% of U.S. businesses employ more than 500 people
  • 96% of all U.S. businesses gross less than $1M annually
  • Small business start their businesses on their own backs. 77% of small businesses rely on personal savings for their initial funds

Here’s the most interesting part.  Many of the businesses mentioned above are lifestyle businesses.  These are local businesses that we all rely on as part of our daily lives.  They include everything from your corner gas station to the pediatrician that cares for your children.  They are the local butcher, retail store, insurance agent and small community bank.  These business owners are your neighbors, friends, and community leaders.  They are woven tightly into the fabric of our communities, they create jobs and provide significant economic impact.  Without them, our local economies would quickly collapse and the concept of community would likely be lost.

Yes, innovation-driven entrepreneurship is an important piece of our economy, but please don’t discount the critically important role that lifestyle entrepreneurs play in the fabric of our society.  They deserve much more credit than most take the time to give them.

There isn’t a right or wrong - both have their advantages and disadvantages.  If you are starting a business, it is simply a choice you make. If you want to run a business that leaves you in control of your own destiny and allows you to create the hours and income that is right for you, then a lifestyle business is a great choice.  On the other hand, if you want to swing for the fences, scale quickly, and don’t mind giving up control to investors, then an innovation-driven enterprise may be the perfect choice. 

In the end, the choice is the individual entrepreneur’s. Whatever their choice, let’s be certain to acknowledge that neither is more important than the other and both have the potential to create jobs, inspire wealth and invigorate our communities through entrepreneurial development.

If you want to explore for yourself just how important small business is to the U.S. economy, download the latest issue of Small Business Administration’s Small Business Profiles for the States and TerritoriesIt is packed full of information about small business and its importance to our economy.

It only takes a little extra effort to stand out from average

Picture a busy Memorial Day weekend at Canalside Buffalo, lots of kiddie rides, two children under 2-1/2, four hungry adults and a torrential downpour all colliding at the same moment just as the clock strikes 12:30p.m.  An interesting vision in itself, but now add the desire to take a quick break hoping for a nice lunch at the only sit down restaurant in close range.  Enter lunch at the Liberty HoundLibertyhoundlogo

I know you are picturing a disaster waiting to happen, but quite the contrary.  The Liberty Hound impressed!  It took a friendly front desk staff that was unshakeable despite the busy lunch time rush (made even busier by an unexpected rain storm).  Friendly smiles, a clear expectation of wait time and a sincere interest in finding just the right spot for two hungry kids, one still wanting to be on the rides right outside the door.  They had us at hello.

Our short wait was followed by a great table tucked in the corner out of traffic with a window seat for the little one that overlooked the canal and the waiting rides.  A welcome smile from an attentive waitress followed by some creative menu making for the kids ("no we don't have any fruit, but I'm sure I can make something up for them"...and she did!) was the midpoint of a great customer experience. Great food followed, by continued attentive service and regular checking in from the wait staff.  Finish the experience with the front end manager checking in to see if we liked the "special" table he found just for us.

In short, we had an excellent customer experience when it could have easily been average or worse.  Quite frankly, given the conditions of the day, I would have been quite pleased with average.  All it took was a little extra attention, clear communication and some friendly smiles to turn average into outstanding.  The Liberty Hound left me a fan and loyal customer.  We'll be back!

The moral of the story is that it didn't take much to make a huge difference.  That is a sad reflection of what we've come to expect from our endless average or less than average customer experiences.  Bump it up just a notch or two and your business can quickly become a customer loyalty machine.  It doesn't take much!

Garbage In, Garbage Out - The Secret to an Exceptional Customer Experience

We live in a world of too busy.  Too busy to listen carefully, too busy to focus on things that are important and wayyyyyy too busy to pay attention to details.  Sound familiar?  It's a reality of our fast paced world.  Sadly, our fascination with being busy has crept into many of our businesses too.  We often focus on the big picture, forgetting about the details of the customer experience.  

Let me give you a quick example.  Recently I was in Denver, CO at a beautiful hotel.  Great room, decent front desk service and a friendly staff.  Unfortunately, one small detail left a bad impression that I can't get out of my head.  It wasn't a big deal...actually, it was a pretty minor detail, but it was big enough to make me think twice about the establishments attention to detail. 

It was a public restroom on the first floor of the hotel with a washroom attendant just leaving, having wiped down the counter and mirrors.  All sounds like great attention to detail until this... 

Attention to Detail Builds Customer Loyalty
Attention to Detail?

Yes, I actually took a picture of a garbage can in a restroom.  Really you say?  Forgive me, but it made an impression.  I watched the washroom attendant put all of his attention into the little details like wiping down the sinks and washing the mirrors, yet in his business and rush to move onto the next chore of the day, he forgot to pay attention to this little detail.  A little detail that wasn't so little.  Why didn't he empty the garbage or at least compress it?  He was too busy being busy.

So what's the point you ask? The point is that attention to detail matters!  Your ability to focus on detail can set your company apart, because your competition probably isn't taking the time to do that.

 Let me contrast this example with a recent experience that we had at the Buffalo Marriott Niagara.  Just two weeks ago we had an open house breakfast event for our CEL Core class. 

They paid attention to every detail.  Let me walk you through our few hours on site.  I personally arrived about an hour early.  The room was set from the night before and everything looked great.  I sat at a rear table to review some presentation materials.  Not one minute later, someone was offering a cheerful good morning greeting and offering a cup of coffee.  Did I need anything?  Did I want anything?  I can go on an on about this particular venue and the event, but let me sum it up this way.  ABOVE and BEYOND!  Above and beyond in every interaction from maintenance worker to server to banquet manager to hotel manager.  Every single person was focused on us, the customer and our clients.  I can't explain how they did it, but it is obviously part of their culture.  The attention was in the details and the positive attitude that every team member exuded.  It was obvious to us that the entire team was focused in serving the customer with a genuine sincerity that flowed seamlessly through their team. 

Why should you care?  Because this type of over the top customer service is so rare that if your organization has it, you have an incredible competitive experience in the marketplace and you can likely charge a premium for it.  Is the Buffalo Marriott Niagara the cheapest place to hold our events?  Absolutely not, they are on the higher end of the choices available to us.  That being said, we will gladly pay a premium for our team and our clients to experience that magic that happens when customer service is the focus and not an afterthought.